Koje-do (part one)

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On February 1952, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Far Eastern Affairs, U. Alexis Johnson, suggested a screening program for the POWs held by the UN troops.  This would constitute interviewing and segregating them into repatriates and non-repatriates.  On 27 February,  Pres. Truman approved the plan and made it the final US position at the Panmunjom peace talks.  Washington was under the impression that this would give each POW a freedom of choice – that was far from the truth.

UN prisoner of war camp No. 1, a rocky, hilly, 150 square mile island in the Korean Strait approximately 30 miles southeast of Pusan, was a constant problem, but now it was about to get even worse.

Australian newspaper item

Australian newspaper item

The first serious incident occurred on 18 February between a battalion of the US 27th Infantry Regiment and the communist POWs.  After the event, 8th Army commander, Gen. Van Fleet, appointed BGen. Francis Dodd as the camp commander in the hopes of improving discipline, yet Dodd did not speak Korean or Chinese and had had little experience in Asia.  Dodd, his deputy, Col. Maurice Fitzgerald, and his staff devised Operation Spreadout.  This plan would send about 82,000 POWs and civilian internees to new camps on the mainland and Cheju-do island.

Specially trained communist agents were instructed by the Chinese high command to be captured so as to create disturbances by any means available.  On 13 March, a work detail passing Compound 76 was stoned and South Korean guards fired, killing 12 and wounding 26 prisoners.  In the attempts to halt the gunfire, a Korean program staffer and a US Army officer were wounded.  The entire US 38th Infantry Regiment was then sent in because intelligence felt the communists were planning a jail break.

Van Fleet requested that the screening be postponed, but Ridgeway denied the suggestion.  The screening began on 11 April in the “most friendly” of the compounds.  Two days later, in Compound 95, a medical party was captured by the POWs and South Korean soldiers used clubs to rescue them.  A riot broke out, ROK guards opened fire and a US Army officer, with a jeep-mounted machine-gun stopped a rush on the gate.  Three POWs died, 60 wounded, I ROK soldier went missing and 4 were wounded.

General Yount, in command of the entire POW system, began to move the Koreans who refused repatriation from Koje-do to Pusan, Masan, Yongchon, Kwangju and Nonsan.  The UN screening teams worked their way through 22 of the 28 easiest compounds while being protected under heavy guard.  By 19 April, Dodd’s teams had screened 106,376 POWs and civilian internees.

English being taught at Koje-do

English being taught at Koje-do

Operation Spreadout thus far was relatively peaceful, but there were still 43,000 violent POWs to go; approximately 37,628 were commanded by colonels Lee and Hong and 5,700 directed by the as yet unidentified Mr. Pak.  The constant progress to move the prisoners forced the communist leaders into action. (According to communist reporters Winnington and Burchett, the “Koje-do Three acted without orders from the high command which later brought them into disgrace.)

29 April, the North Korean officers of Compound 76 asked to meet with Lt.Col. Wilbur Raven, a Military Police officer and enclosure commander over a cigarette ration dispute.  When Raven entered the “headquarters” hut and began hearing the demands, about a hundred POWs stormed the building and captured him.  They then brought out a EE8 field phone for him to talk to Dodd, who rejected their demands.  Raven was then released – but – this proved to be merely a rehearsal.

Archives, Dodd capture

Archives, Dodd capture

7 May, while Dodd and Raven discussed prison conditions and screening at Compound 76’s fence, a “honey bucket” crew returned and the guards opened the gates.  Dodd was captured; Raven escaped by holding on to a pole and kicking at the prisoners until help arrived.  BGen. Charles Colson showed up with an American Infantry Battalion.  The POWs posted signs around the compound stating that Dodd would die if his rescue was attempted.

Only tear gas and riot-suppression methods were used and Van Fleet ordered no media coverage as they amassed firepower to neutalize the hard core prisoners of Compounds 76, 77 and 78.  Gen. Clark, not having been briefed about the POW situation by Ridgeway, was upset to learn of the “biggest flap of the entire war.”

To be continued in the following post….

Click on images to enlarge.

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A WWII update…

Please click this article to read.

Please click this article to read.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Kenneth Adler – Fair Lawn, NJ & Delray Beach, FL; US Navy, WWII

Bronze Star

Bronze Star

Ralph Anderson – Farmington, Conn & Boca Raton, FL; US Navy, Pearl Harbor, PTO

Richard Beaumont – Reading, MA & Lake Worth, FL; WWII, 9th Infantry Div., Bronze Star

Stefan Bedzmierowski – Chicago, IL; served in the 5th Kresowa Infantry Div./Polish II Corps, ETO

John Gates – Arlington, VA; US Air Force & civilian employee Pentagon

Helen (Grillet) Keag – Chicago, IL; US WAC, WWII

John R. Martin – NYC, NY & Jupiter, FL; US Air Force, Korean War

Peter Micciche – NY & Oakland Park, FL; US Army, Korea

Richard Redford – Sauble Beach, Canada; WWII veteran

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Resources – “Rakkasans” by General EM Flanagan; US National Archives; Trove; Korean War online.org; history.army.mil; space4peace.com; history.net; PMO Operations  Album, Wiki; War Behind the Wire; ABC-clio Schools; The Week magazine for WWII story

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on November 15, 2013, in Korean War, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.

  1. First of all, thank you for the insert story on Phillip Coon. I am very, very happy for him although it was so late in his life.

    Second, to learn there was so much uprising en mass at POW camps was astounding. Japanese POWs for the most part under American control later in war were not anywheres near this violent, e.g., taking of high ranking officers or us shooting at them. Perhaps they were so few in number comparably but still, this violence is amazing.

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  2. Great post, what astonishing numbers. As with the Japanese in WWII, finding you have thousands of unanticipated mouths to feed and bodies to guard, must be a logistics nightmare. I’m interested that some POWs were refusing repatriation – are these North Koreans or Chinese, or have I misunderstood?

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  3. Interesting article, Thanks and regards

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  4. This is a great article. The North Koreans continued the war in the POW camps. I didn’t know that. Fascinating.

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  5. Imagine that! Cigarettes rationed! The simplest thing COULD cause an uproar I suppose, especially when one had nothing else left. How very sad.

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    • Just an excuse for a rehearsal; besides I’m afraid I left out the part where they were rationed because those POWs had refused to work on any work details. It was all in their plan.

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  6. Something I would never think of — all of those POWs and trying to contain them. Sheesh. Another great article, GP!

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  7. Fascinating…the things that no one speaks about! Thank you for the update on Phillip Coon. Sometimes the behavior of the US towards blacks and Indians is simply abhorrent and disrespectful.

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  8. ‘Honey buckets’….so that’s what they are!

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  9. Fascinating and informative as usual! Thank you for your posts!

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  10. interesting and informative as always

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  11. So, that’s what a honey bucket is – I would never have guessed. Yucks!

    Yes, I prefer to read short episodes rather than one looooong post.

    Looking forward to the continuation.

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  12. Looking forward to tomorrow …isn’t it the obligation of any POW to try and escape? Imagine trying to control a hostile force this large!

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  13. Once again, I am in awe of these story’s….and the way they are written. Clear, direct and emotion producing, when I see what our amazing soldiers went thru. I have learned so much thru your eyes and thank you for all of your efforts. God Bless

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    • This is outstanding and everyone MUST READ. It explains not only the plight of the Canadian soldier, but in truth it describes them all the vets. Great catch there, Pierre and thank you for including the link here.

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  14. As always, a great post! May I recommend T. R. Fehrenbach’s 1963 history of the Korean Conflict “This Kind of War”? The author discusses Koje-do in great detail.

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    • I understand John Toland also wrote about the camp – had I known that I was even going to include Korea in this site, I would have read both. I hope I am doing the incident justice here.

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  15. To be continued in the following post….

    Now you are learning!

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    • A good smile for the morning, Pierre. Thanks.

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      • I found two typos in your post.

        The screening bagan on 11 April
        Dodd was catured

        BTW…

        What’s a honey bucket crew?

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        • Ha, I finally caught you. During Smitty’s time in Japan after WWII, it was explained that (unfortunately) the plumbing was primitive and human excrement was carried away by “honey buckets” or wagons. Thanks for the typo info.

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          • I must have missed that expression. Won’t happen again.
            Great post btw about the prisoners and the infiltration by communist agents.
            I know you had talked about it before.
            See I read your posts carefully… well almost all the time.
            Have a great day.

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            • I know you do, you have from the beginning and been of enormous help to me all along the way. Just had to give you that one jab – in jest – I’m sure you know.

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  1. Pingback: Remembrance Day: Too little too late for Canada’s Korean War veterans? | Lest We Forget

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